For the second season in a row, the Grizzlies will face off against the Clippers in the 4-5 matchup. It is sure to be a long series that will drain the energy out of all of us. It won't be fun. It will be a heart burner. It won't be aesthetically pleasing. It will be ugly. It won't be easy. It will be a battle. That is Grizzlies basketball, and that's exactly what they want to happen in this series. If ever a Game of Thrones reference could be used in basketball, it's for this series. The Grizzlies and Clippers both must know... Winter is Coming. A long, arduous winter.
Because everybody loves things grouped in threes, I'm going to break down three key matchups in the series, three plays the Grizzlies should use to exploit the Clippers defense, and three plays the Grizzlies can't allow on defense if they are going to advance.
Mike Conley/Tony Allen Backcourt vs. Chris Paul/Eric Bledsoe Backcourt- If I had to pick one player who the Grizzlies are going to have to ask to do the most in this series, it's Conley. The Grizzlies success on offense is largely contingent on whether Conley is able to orchestrate the offense consistently throughout the course of each game. Conley must capitalize on situations where Chris Paul is guarding him. Now, that probably sounds a little crazy because Paul is a tenacious, ballhawking defender. However, he is not on the same level as Eric Bledsoe, who has been a nightmare for Conley to go against the last two seasons. Conley will likely be guarded by Bledsoe every time Bledsoe is on the floor so the Clippers can put Paul on Tony Allen to help him conserve energy throughout the game.
Another thing to consider is that Conley will spend a significant amount of time chasing Paul around on defense, which is certain to wear him down and possibly make him less effective on offense which the Grizzlies can't afford over the course of the series. Conley is excellent at using the pick and roll, and he will always turn the corner after coming off a screen no matter how a defense tries to hedge him or trap him. If Conley can turn the corner against Paul and Bledsoe and attack the rim, he should be able to create easy buckets for Gasol and Randolph and open threes for perimeter shooter Quincy Pondexter.
As for Tony Allen, he will have to shut Paul down the best he can while staying out of foul trouble. Allen has to know that Paul will get all the weak calls, so he needs to adjust his play accordingly. Allen defending Paul is a hardcore basketball fan's wet dream. Look for Allen to show why he should be a first team all defense player. If the refs are loose with the whistles, it could be a long frustrating series for Paul.
Zach Randolph vs. Blake Griffin- Griffin is not an excellent post defender and often lacks positional awareness on the defensive end of the floor, so if Zach is able to exploit Griffin's subpar defense and at least return to 75% of his 2011 playoff form, then the Grizzlies should be in good shape. As for how to defend Griffin, put a body on him! Griffin has gotten better in the post, but he still shies away from contact. If Zach is physical with him early on the block, Griffin will begin to settle for step back jumpers which the Grizzlies will gladly take over an easy dunk.
Marc Gasol vs. Anybody The Clippers Put on Him- The Clippers have nobody that can consistently guard Gasol. He could easily average 20 and 10 in this series, and the Grizzlies will likely need those performances from him. DeAndre Jordan isn't defensively equipped to handle Gasol's skill set, and he is probably the Clippers best option against Gasol. With that said, do work Marc!
How to Exploit The Clippers Defense
With a struggling Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies are going to need Conley to carry more of the scoring load, which is a big ask. One of the Grizzlies best options to free Conley from a maniacal Bledsoe or Paul is to force a switch. In the play below, Conley brings the ball up the court. He then feeds the ball to Gasol at the elbow and continues to act like he is sprinting towards the weak side corner, but right after he goes over Zach Randolph he circles down to the low block. At the same time, Pondexter sprints from the corner flashes in the paint to force Paul away from Conley. This forces Jamal Crawford, an atrocious defender, to pick up Conley thus creating a mismatch. Randolph then executes a pin down screen on Crawford, and Conley circles back to free himself up for a wide open three.
Marc Gasol will be force fed at the elbow during the playoff series against the Clippers, and rightfully so. The Grizzlies rely heavily on Gasol pick and rolls and pick and pops. A particular favorite of the Grizzlies is for Gasol to set a pick at the elbow and then pop out to the free throw line extended where he receives a pocket pass from the ball handler. The reason this play is so effective is because once Gasol receives the pocket pass, he has two options. The first is to shoot the ball if his defender is sagging off to guard against a drive into the paint. The second option is to drive into the paint if his defender is playing too close on him and not respecting his ability to blow by big men.
In this clip, Gasol's man does not get out on him quick enough after a pick and pop causes the Jazz defenders to confuse their assignments, so he decides to go ahead and shoot the jumper.
In the second clip, Al Jefferson comes up too tight on Gasol, so he decides to drive into the lane and shoot his patented high percentage hook shot. Jefferson is caught off balance and has to foul Gasol, but he completes the shot anyway and gets a three point play.
As has been duly noted, Zach Randolph has been struggling recently. Blake Griffin is not an excellent defender and if Zach goes at him aggressively in the post, it could get him in foul trouble and cause a soft Griffin to play even softer. One of the Grizzlies bread and butter plays is a little high-low action. The play begins with Conley dribbling at the top of the key. Then, Gasol sets a pin down screen of Randolph's man, Griffin in this case, that causes Griffin to lag behind the play. Randolph sets a quick pick for Conley before rolling back to the basket. Conley feeds Gasol at the elbow, where Gasol turns to face the rim to put himself in position to make an entry pass to Zach. Zach then settles on the low block where he seals off Griffin to receive a deep entry pass. Gasol hits him with a bounce pass for an easy bucket. While Randolph has had his struggles, if he catches the ball that deep in the post the defense can forget about it. Their only option is to foul. Watch the aforementioned play unfold below.
How To Stop The Clippers Offense
Eric Bledsoe is my "x" factor for this series. If the Grizzlies can't shut him down, they are unlikely to win the series. He is going to make enough of an impact guarding Conley on the defensive end that the Grizzlies can't afford for him to have as big of an impact on offense. Bledsoe is tough to stop if you let him get out and run, so the Grizzlies will need to protect the ball to mitigate his transition field goals off of turnovers. The two plays below are perfect examples of what can't happen.
The second play the Grizzlies must plan for is the Chris Paul special, better known as the good ole pick and roll. Paul is one of the best point guards in the league at executing the pick and roll, in large part due to his crafty shielding of his opponents with his backside. Paul can't be stopped but he can be slowed down. Conley and Allen are going to have to get in Paul's face and bump him 25 feet from the basket to keep him from being able to exploit the Grizzlies defense at will. Luckily for us, Conley and Allen are two of the best in the league at fighting through screens. Even with that said, Paul is able to get even the best perimeter defender caught up on a screen in the pick and roll. Paul will run rampant if the Grizzlies can't slow him down and stay in front of him on plays like this.
Vinny Del Negro's not really an X's and O's coach, so the Clippers run a lot of simple stuff as exhibited above. For as much as people talk about how pleasing the Clippers style of play is and "Lob City," the majority of the team's baskets are ugly. The next and last example is no different. The Clippers averaged 11 offensive rebounds against the Grizzlies in the four games the teams played in the regular season. This led to a lot of easy baskets for the Clippers over the course of the four games. and the Grizzlies can't afford to make life harder for themselves by allowing double digit offensive boards each game. Below, DeAndre Jordan gets an easy tip in on an offensive rebound. Jordan is not a proficient offensive player. For a starting center averaging only 9 points per game, the Grizzlies have to make him work for every one of his baskets. They can't allow him to score 6 points off of offensive rebounds like they did in the last meeting between the teams.
That's It! Hope you guys enjoyed it. See you tomorrow night in the GameThread. Go Grizz!